Nanci A. Smith is a true writer, in part because of how she makes the insurmountable seem wholly attainable, thanks to some hard work, a good legal team, and a sense of proactive communication between both parties. With the release of Untangling Your Marriage: A Guide to Collaborative Divorce, she tackles a boogeyman most of us don’t think about until we’ve tied the knot. Divorce, sadly, remains a highly contentious topic — even by today’s standards. For someone, particularly with firsthand professional experience, to write a book that so justly and humanely addresses such taboos head-on, it’s a welcome relief from the proverbial beating around the bush many of Untangling Your Marriage’s literary peers suffer from.
“No hard and fast rules make you eligible for a collaborative divorce, except that you both need to be able to communicate with each other directly and follow through on basic assignments and agreements,” Smith writes. “It is important to screen yourselves honestly to ensure that this process will work for you. If you are a victim of domestic violence or if there is active, untreated addiction or other mental health issues, you want to be up front about those issues so the team can honestly assess whether we all agree that this process will be safe and effective.
Serious mental health issues or prior domestic violence does not automatically disqualify a couple.” She adds, “If a serious personality disorder in one spouse will make reaching a negotiated resolution impossible, then collaborative divorce will not generally be an appropriate option. Otherwise, no matter how difficult your circumstances, a collaborative divorce should be an option to consider, because going to court often makes a difficult situation worse by setting up a public, adversarial battle of very private, challenging personal issues.”
Part of the clarity Smith brings to the process is how she switches between the hypothetical perspectives of clientele, then focuses on the subjective experience a divorce lawyer will have with respect to instituting the titular ‘Collaborative Divorce’ process in a legal and interpersonal set of milieus. “Before you do anything else (including telling your spouse that you want to divorce) consider the fact that if you call a divorce lawyer trained in the dark art of adversarial warfare, the risk is very real that things will go from bad to worse in a hurry. It also will cost a small fortune in attorney’s fees, and the interests of your children will likely get lost amid the turmoil,” she writes. “This is not because you or your spouse are bad or evil people (although sometimes it is), or that your spouse’s lawyer is a jerk (although sometimes he is).
Rather, it is in the nature of the adversarial divorce process and its failure to account for the grief you and everyone in your family and circle of friends are experiencing. In a traditional divorce model, we don’t acknowledge the grief involved in a divorce. We didn’t have healthy rituals to end a marriage or long-term relationship with dignity and mutual respect until collaborative divorce came along. Now we do…Grief, coupled with a process that makes you and your spouse adversaries, creates an environment where good people behave badly and everyone suffers, except the lawyers…stand up for yourself and your family (including your spouse) even though it feels uncomfortable and challenging…
Find the courage to say that you want an amicable, non-adversarial divorce where you and your spouse can emerge healthy and wholehearted, not bitter and resentful.”